Australia: Congratulations to Our New Prime Minister

Australia's new PM

(Daily Mail) Michael Turnbull, 1st on the left.

Some are referring to the situation as the “soap opera of Australia” and others are saying “another year, another prime minister”. The jokes are numerous out there as Michael Turnbull was elected the new leader of the Liberals Party, in Australia, only after a little less than 2 years of Tony Abott’s Prime Ministership. Michael Turnbull has become Australia’s 29th Prime Minister elect.

Yes there was a leadership spill. Yes it’s another year, another prime minister. Yes, maybe the Libreals are learning from the Labour Party from the swap Rudd-Gillard-Rudd. BUT how many countries in the world can claim to be able to do the same? In how many countries the party and the leader are not one and same? It is so easy to joke about it but there are so many countries where elections are a remote dream, or countries where there is not a big choice of parties to choose from. We know of so many countries which do not even have the word ‘democracy’ in their vocabulary, and are governed by some senile rulers/dictators. (Did you hear about Mugabe recently making his same old speech to the Parliament and not even being aware of it?)

Let’s compare the situation to one country I know well: Mauritius. Since I was a kid, I’ve heard only about three major parties in Mauritius; they are the Mauritius Labour Party (PTR), the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) and the (Militant Socialist Movement). Elections are held every 5 years in Mauritius and each time if it’s not one party governing, it’s the other or else it’s a coalition between two of the three parties. And guess how many major parties there are at the moment in Mauritius, about 47 years after its independence? Yes, you guessed right! The same three! What’s even more remarkable is the leaders of these parties.

Ramgoolam, father and son (Labour Party)
The PTR was founded by Dr Maurice Cure in 1936 along with other members. When Mauritius gained its independence in 1968 and elections were held, it won and was led by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who stayed Prime Minister for quite a while (1968 to 1982). Then later the party was elected again to be led by his son (1995 to 2000 and 2005 to 2014).

Berenger (Mauritian Militant Movement)
The MMM was founded in 1968 by Paul Berenger and other members as a students’ movement. It officially became MMM one year later. Since then the party has been led by the same, one and only Paul Berenger.

Jugnauth, father and son (Militant Socialist Movement)
From 1983 to 2003, Jugnauth (the father) was the leader of the party then he passed on the leadership to Pravind Jugnauth (his son) who is still assuming that post.

From 1976 to 1982, Sir Aneerood Jugnauth was the Leader of the Opposition and served as Prime Minister from 1982 to 1995 and again from 2000 to 2003; he was then elected President from 2003 to 2012 and once more Prime Minister since December 2014. You DID read right: the PM became President and then PM again!

In summary, it’s very easy to remember. Mauritian PMs since the independence: Ramgoolam, Jugnauth, Ramgoolam, Jugnauth, Berenger, Ramgoolam, Jugnauth.

Now, this is what we can call a soap opera. A democratic country, where political parties are closely linked to a family name and where one party = one person! Even if you lose the election, even if you have complaints filed against you, even if you have court hearings on several accusations, even if you seem to everyone that you are senile, if you are in Mauritius and you have the right name, it is highly probable that you will lead your party till you die. It is worth noting though that the last general election has shown a slight change of mentality of the Mauritian people; the trend to vote for ‘a leader’ has witnessed some change although the PM’s name is still ‘Jugnauth’.

Luckily in Australia the situation is completely different. Questioning the leadership is possible and having the party elect the leader is possible. I wish Mauritian political parties could learn more from countries like Australia. Australians should consider themselves lucky to have a VERY FAIR political/governing system in place and what happened with the election of Michael Turnbull as the new PM is proof of that – although I’m hoping he stays in office till the end of his mandate and there’s not another leadership spill!


Finland’s Education System: a win-win for all?

students are back to school

It’s back to school time in Doha. Back to waking up early, back to spending hours in traffic and back to spending the afternoons doing homeworks. The race starts at Kindergarten here when kids as young as 4 are prepared for the entry exam/interview to obtain a seat in a ‘top’ primary school of their choice. In Mauritius too, the competition is quite tough and private tuition starts in all subjects as early as the 4th grade of primary school and usually only ends at the end of high school! I cannot but ask: why not simply copy Finland’s education system?

When the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were out, not even the Finns could believe it. PISA is a standardised test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues. It revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they were the leaders in math and in 2006, first in science. In the 2009 PISA, they came second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide.

Some Interesting Facts (from Smithsonian):

  • According to a survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the differences between the strongest and weakest students are the smallest in the world.
  • There are no mandated standardised tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of high school.
  • There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.
  • Finland’s schools are publicly funded.
  • Formal education only starts at the age of 7.
  • Everyone in the government agencies running them, are educators; not business people, not politicians.
  • Every school has the same national goals and recruits staff from the same pool of university-trained educators.

The result is that a Finnish kid is given the opportunity to get the same quality education no matter where he lives. The majority of educators in Finland are professionals selected from the top 10% of its graduates who then study for a masters degree in education. Many schools are quite small to enable teachers to know every student. Teachers are always trying new methods to enable students to succeed. No wonder 93% of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66% pursue higher education, the highest rate in the European Union.

Australia and Mauritius

It was fortunate for our kids that, when drafting the National Curriculum, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) reflected on practices in countries that performed ‘better’ like Singapore and Finland. Good on Australia for that! However, due to a change in Australia’s federal government, the National Curriculum has only been partly implemented till now.

With a change of government in Mauritius too, the educational system is being reformed with a nine-year schooling system being introduced. It looks as if only the form is changing, most of the content staying the same. The competition will only shift at a later level, the tuitions will still be there and the severe competition at the end of the secondary schooling will still exist. The government has not unveiled the whole reform plan yet so I am hoping there will be more positives than the present system has.

Curriculum is important but so are educators. Educators should be given both the means and the motivations to be able to perform well. Unlike how I felt when I was working (both in Perth and in Mauritius), educators cannot simply be a number in the system, which can move from one school to another at any decided time. They cannot be expected to give their best when education has started to look more like a business where everything is about making money or cutting costs; they cannot be expected to look at teaching as a vocation and not a job, when they are only given respect according to how their students perform. Wake up people, education is NOT business! Check out Finland.

A great read is

Waiting for the Australian review and for the Mauritian Nine-Year Schooling Reform Project…